Mitchell Found Right Fit At Saint Louis

Every time Saint Louis University associate head basketball coach Porter Moser goes to Las Vegas, he calls or texts Kwamain Mitchell to tell his point guard he's going back to the scene of the crime.

That is where, during the summer before Mitchell's senior year at Whitefish Bay (Wis.) Dominican High School, the point guard briefly decommitted from the Billikens and was considering looking around at other schools.

"That was the hardest 48 hours I've had," Moser said.

The SLU assistant coach watched Mitchell play in Las Vegas at an AAU tournament during that time but was not permitted to talk to the recruit because of NCAA restrictions preventing such contact.

"I couldn't talk to him because he was at an event," Moser said. "I followed him everywhere he went — every AAU game he played in for a month."

Mitchell, who talked about the situation on Monday after practice, didn't wait long before reaffirming his commitment to Moser, head coach Rick Majerus and the Billikens.

"I decommitted because I wanted to explore my options," he said. "Minnesota did offer me. I went back home and talked to my parents I decided Saint Louis is where I wanted to be at."

Kwamain Mitchell (Don Adams Jr. photo)

That has proven to be a good decision. Mitchell, whose high school teams went 72-6 and won a state championship in his final three seasons, was named to the Atlantic 10 Conference All-Rookie team as a freshman.

Mitchell was named an Atlantic 10 Conference second-team selection after averaging a team-high 16.1 points per game during the regular season, which ranks ninth in the conference, and leading the young Billikens squad with all sophomores and freshmen to a 20-10 overall record and 11-5 A-10 mark, good for fourth in the conference.

"It's a great honor," he said. "Last year I was kind of disappointed that I didn't get rookie of the year. My thing is come to practice to work hard every day."

That was something Moser, the former Illinois State head coach, learned about the Wisconsin native when he began recruiting Mitchell to the Redbirds. When Majerus took over at SLU and hired Moser, the coaching duo quickly went to work looking for a point guard to be the future of the Billikens program.

Moser said there were two things that stood out about Mitchell.

"One, is you love his athleticism and competitiveness," Moser said. "Two, he's got an unbelievable amount of pride and determination to win. I talked to all of his teachers and they said he was the hardest worker. His coaches said he was the hardest worker. Everybody said the same thing, the kid is just the hardest worker. You take into consideration his athletic ability — he's just so fast — you know he's going to just keep working hard to get better and do whatever it takes to win."

Mitchell has shown that he's willing to do whatever it takes during his two years in a Saint Louis uniform and is the catalyst for the Billikens as they head into the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament this week.

The sophomore point guard hit the game-winning jumper with 1.4 seconds left against St. Bonaventure. He made four free throws in the final minute of a three-point win on the road at La Salle. He banked in a long contest 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left in regulation against Dayton at Chaifetz Arena to send the game to overtime.

"He's made play after play in late games for us," Moser said.

Mitchell averaged a team-high 32.6 minutes per game and was the only SLU player to start every game he played in this season. He led the team in scoring, 3-pointers (51), free throws (85), steals (41), was second in assists (85) and third in 3-point field goal percentage (35.4 percent) and defensive rebounds (74).

He has also established himself as a strong defensive player, which has helped him regularly draw praise from his 62-year-old coach.

"He's got a big burden on his shoulders, him and (Kyle) Cassity," Majerus said after SLU defeating St. Bonaventure. "They have to defend, they have to rebound, they have to play a lot of minutes. Kwamain did an excellent job tonight. He's very heady. He hits shots. He's shooting much better. He's making good decision. He's becoming more of a consummate point guard. He looks for his points."

Mitchell admitted that at times during his freshman season, when he averaging 11 points per game, he would play too fast and turn the ball over because of it. He said this year he's letting the game come to him.

That has led to more success and more victories, the most in the three seasons that Majerus has coached the Billikens.

SLU's sophomore point guard is driven by a desire to get his team into the NCAA tournament and, after a strong finish to the regular season that saw the Billikens win eight of their last 10 games, there is still talk of that possibility with a strong showing in the A-10 tournament.

At the very least, Saint Louis is positioned for a berth in the postseason's National Invitation Tournament — it would be the team's first appearance in the NIT since the 2003-04 season — as well as setting the stage for much higher expectations in the 2010-11 season with all five starters returning.

"We're having fun," Mitchell said. "We're excited with what we got ourselves into right now. We're here to win. That's what got us to where we are right now. After the Dayton game, we were so excited about that. But now we need to move on to Friday and whoever we play."

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